Not many people go to Vatican City as their de-facto destination. However, almost everyone I met who visited Rome, has planned to visit Vatican City. You want to see the St. Peter’s Basilica and roam around the Vatican Museums. These are absolute must do’s when you visit Rome. However, Vatican City is also a country of its own and besides the obvious, there are some peculiar and fun things to do in Vatican City.
This post is for everyone who will visit Rome and wonder what to do in Vatican City and how to make the most of their time. It is for people who want to see the highlights and, when time permits, see more things that are connected to the Vatican. If you’re obsessed with countries, and you want to spend time in one of the smallest countries in the world, then continue reading!
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9 Unique Things to do in Vatican City
Vatican City – a city-state in Rome
Vatican City is an official country, enclaved in the city of Rome. It is both the smallest country in the world (44 hectares – 110 acres) and has the smallest population (approximately 1,000 people). Vatican City is ruled by the Pope, head of the Catholic Church and Vatican City. The Holy See and the Pope have roughly resided in Vatican City since 1377 when they returned from Avignon.
Many people who visit Rome put a visit to “the Vatican” on their list of things to do. “The Vatican” is often used when people mean the Vatican Museums and include the Sistine Chapel. St. Peter’s Basilica is also in Vatican City but not part of the Vatican Museums, although you can book a combined tour and use a shortcut to go from one to the other.
The Holy See has other properties and land, outside of Vatican City. Most notably is the San Giovanni in Laterano and the Pope’s Summer Palace in Castel Gandolfo.
9 Things to do in Vatican City
Whenever you’re in Rome, I always advise to group your activities and maximize your time in Rome. Visit the Vatican and cross all the things to see in Vatican City off your list in one visit if you’re short on time. Here are my recommendations for fun things to do that you cannot do anywhere else than in Vatican City.
- See the Pope in Vatican City
- Send a postcard from the Vatican
- Go shopping for religious souvenirs
- Admire the view from St. Peter’s Basilica
- Get spherical at the Sphere in Spehe in the Vatican
- Take your time at the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican
- See the Vatican after hours
- See Michelangelo’s Pièta at St. Peter’s Basilica
- Traditions of the Swiss Guards at the Vatican
- Things you shouldn’t do in Vatican City
- How to get to Vatican City?
- Where to eat in Vatican City?
- Where to stay near Vatican City?
Continue reading below for a more detailed description of each of these places. Or click the link above to jump straight to the subject of your interest.
See the Pope in Vatican City
Ok, the first item on our list is actually not something you cannot do anywhere else, but as the Pope lives and works in the Vatican, the biggest chance and the greatest odds to see the Pope would be in Vatican City.
Your biggest chance to see the Pope, would be during one of the public sermons in St. Peter’s Square. You can easily get a free ticket to attend it. You need to download the request form online and send it by fax. Then you’ll receive a reservation and can show it to the Swiss guards to pick up your tickets. There is no assigned seating, first come first serve, so arrive on time.
Send a postcard from the Vatican
As an avid Postcrosser, I love to send a postcard from every country I visit. As Vatican City is a country of its own, it has to be on the list! The Vatican issues their own stamps of the holy leader of the Catholic Church and you can purchase stamps at the post office (left side of St. Peter’s square) or buy them from the stamp ATM outside.
For real numismatist, the Vatican also mines their own Euro coins (no banknotes) so make sure to get those at the post office too!
Bonus item: Use a Vatican ATM in Latin
Now that we are on the subject of money, did you know the Vatican has its own bank? Rumour has it there is an ATM in Vatican City that you can operate in Latin! You’ll get normal, standard Euro banknotes, as the Vatican doesn’t have their own bills, but the ATM does offer the option to operate the machine in Latin! How cool is that?
(I studied Latin at University so really cool in my book!)
I have asked the IOR office where this ATM can be located and if it still offers the Latin language options, but this has yet to be confirmed.
Stock up on religious souvenirs at the Vatican
Another thing you can do in Vatican City is go shopping! No Prada or Gucci here, but you do find dozens, if not hundreds of religious paraphernalia shops. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for life-size Maria statues or a rosary for your grandmother, they have it and they have it good!
Big, small, tacky or toned-down, crosses, rosaries, postcards of the Pope, (basically any household item with a picture of the Pope) and candles, lots and lots of candles.
Obviously, you can go shopping for religious items anywhere in the world, but nowhere have I seen such a broad selection and abundance of devote retail therapy as in the shops around the Vatican.
Admire the view from the St. Peter’s Basilica
As Rome is built on 7 hills, the views from the city’s elevated vantage points are impressive. But nowhere do you get a similar view of Rome than from the top façade of St. Peter’s Basilica.
You can walk the 551 steps up, or take the elevator to the first floor and then climb the remaining 320 steps. On the first level, you come to the roof of the Basilica and you stand behind the apostles. From here, you can also look down inside the Basilica.
If you climb the final stretch, you’ll climb the dome of St. Peter. From here, you’ll have a striking view of the apostles on the roof, St. Peter’s square stretching in front of you and the city of Rome at your feet.
It will cost you 8 euros (or 10€ for the elevator) and this can only be paid in cash at the ticket office. If you book a tour including the Vatican Museums, you can use the shortcut. Find out what that means here.
Get spherical at the Sphere in Sphere at Vatican Museum
Of course, the Vatican Museum is on your list of things to do in the Vatican. Maybe it is even THE reason for your trip to Vatican City. But before you run to the Sistine Chapel, take the opportunity and admire the spectacular Sphere in Sphere sculpture in the interior garden of the Vatican Museum.
You’ve probably seen this industrial, tormented orb on social media before, but you might not know it is called Sphere in Sphere. It is made by Italian sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro and he made many similar orbs and spheres. I made it my personal quest to find as many as possible (if not all of them).
Take your time at the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican
And this is really hard. The masterpiece of the Vatican Museum, a functioning room of the Vatican clergy and top tourist attraction in Rome, the Sistine Chapel is crowded.
You’ll probably find the whole Vatican Museum to be overcrowded. But it is one thing to be rushed past the works of Italian masters in the Pinacotheca or the room of maps, or even Raphael Rooms. But do not get stressed and chased down or shoo-ed out of the Sistine Chapel.
The room with the amazing Michelangelo ceilings and the bigger than life Final Judgement wall are the last stop on the route of the Vatican. Once past the first gate, it is a one-way ticket out the door. The guards want to keep the crowds moving and will usher you along with the room. But if you really want to take in all the art of the Sistine Chapel and let it works its neck cramping magic on you, you need to take your time.
See The Vatican after hours
Did you know the Vatican Museum closes usually at 6 pm? That is quite early but I guess pretty standard for a museum. But, on a few days a month you can visit the Vatican Museum after hours. The museum is officially closed, but small groups of 20 people can go on a guided tour of the Museum and the Sistine Chapel. This is your chance to really take in the pieces of art, the halls, and the amazing Sistine Chapel, without 20,000 other people rubbing your elbows.
The tours are limited and only take place on Fridays from late April till October. You get 2,5 hours to tour the museum with the guide.
Obviously, they sell out quickly, so make sure to score your ticket here.
If you don’t want to share your guide with 20 other people in your group, you can also book a private guided tour for your party. Check availability here.
See Michelangelo’s Pietà at St. Peter’s Basilica
If you like art, then you’ve come to the right place. Rome and the Vatican Museums are filled to the brim with it. However, I found that 2 of my favorite pieces of art were made by the same person: Michelangelo. One is the impressive and powerful statue of David in Florence, the other the delicate and refined Pietà at the St. Peter’s Basilica.
Carefully places behind a thick wall of glass, Maria with a dying Jesus on her lap is meticulously chiseled from the shiny white marble by Michelangelo. Not only did the grandmaster portray one of Christianity’s most deciding moments, but he also brought life to a cold piece of stone.
Michelangelo’s Pietà is located on the right, after the main entrance of St. Peter’s Basilica and is easily overlooked when wowed by the grandeur of the main church. Make sure to come back to this point or reserve time to seek it out when you enter.
Admire the traditions of the Swiss Guards at the Vatican
The Vatican’s army and the Pope’s personal security team, the Swiss guards are something, unlike anything you’ve seen before.
From the 1500s onwards, the Swiss protected the Vatican and the Pope with their lethal weapons, the Halberd. Spear and ax in one, this weapon is still displayed with the guards on duty. Dressed in a seemingly mocking outfit, orange, and purple striped Renaissance attire, they fulfill mostly ceremonial duties but they are not to be messed with as they serve as the Pope’s bodyguards.
I don’t advice to do anything illegal to up your chances of meeting a Swiss Guard, always follow the directions of the personnel on-site. Remember, the Swiss guards are also not a tourist attraction. But because they are so iconic and uniquely linked to the Vatican that I do recommend to admire their tradition and duty to protect the Vatican.
Things you shouldn’t do in the Vatican
That is my list of unique things you can only do in Vatican City. But there are also some things you shouldn’t do when you visit the Vatican. To make the most of your visit to the Vatican, here are some things to avoid:
Don’t wait in line at the Vatican
Now, I don’t suggest to cut the queue but I’m just saying that you do not have to wait in line to get into the Vatican. St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum are huge tourist attractions and during the day, long lines can form (all the way around the Vatican!) to get inside.
This is the 20th century!
You knew you were going to Rome, you knew you want to visit the Vatican, why wait up to 3 hours in the burning sun on the side of the road? Or worst, in the pouring rain?
In this modern-day and age, you can easily go online, order a ticket with a timeslot, print it or save it on your phone, show up, pass security and save 2,5 hours of your precious time.
Do not wait in line to see the Vatican!
- Order your Vatican entrance ticket here
- Or book a guided tour of the Vatican
- Purchase your skip-the-line entry ticket of St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican here
Simple. Book online instead of waiting in line!
Don’t bring any luggage (only a small bag if you have to)
Vatican city is well protected and you can expect security measures in place. Before entering the Vatican Museum, even with a skip-the-line ticket, you need to pass security. You will walk through security and your bags are scanned. Depending on the time of day, this can cause some delays.
Same applies for the entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica. Here, security will also scan you. To make things easier on you, and the other people wanting to get in, don’t bring any luggage. Don’t bring that big backpack with who-knows-what inside and scarp and pointy objects.
You can store any luggage, wheelie bags or backpack at the cloakroom, on the right side of the Basilica. For the museums, you have to get inside first, but they also have a cloakroom. But just do everyone a favor and store your luggage somewhere else.
If you’re impatient like me, or just don’t want to lose any time at all, the best chance the whisk through security and not wait at all, is early mornings. Vatican City is accessible from 7.00 am and the Basilica opens at 7. Get up early, head out to the Vatican and see St. Peter’s Basilica and Square without any crowds.
Don’t get your passport stamped
For those of you, who love to collect countries, Vatican City is a must-visit. Tiny but definitely a country of its own. Sadly, you don’t get a passport stamp when you enter Vatican City. There are no customs officers and you can’t even get a free stamp.
Best you can do is buy a Vatican postcard and have it stamped in the Vatican and send it home.
How to get to the Vatican?
Now that you have my 9 things to do in Vatican City, you’re eager to go there. How to get to the Vatican?
You can’t fly in unless you’re the Pope and use the helipad. Use Roma Fiumicino Airport or Roma Campiano where low-budget airlines land. Find your flights to Rome here.
Train to Vatican City
By Train: the Vatican’s train station, St. Pietro is located 10 minutes walking from St. Peter’s square as it is located outside the Vatican.
The Vatican does have its own railway station, Fontana Della Stazione Ferroviaria Vaticana but it only has 300m of railway tracks inside the Vatican, it connects with St. Pietro and it only has a one-weekly train schedule to Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer residence.
Best way to travel to Vatican City
By Metro: The easiest and probably the fastest way to reach the Vatican is by Metro A. Get off at Ottaviano and walk the 1 km to St. Peter’s Square. Alternatively, you can use Metro stop Cipro which is 600m from the Vatican Museum entrance. Depending on where in the Vatican you want to visit first you choose Ottaviano or Cipro.
A fun way to travel to Vatican City
By Tram: Rome still has those old fashioned trams, running certain routes through Rome. Nearly Risorgimento is the start of tram 19. It runs around the Borghese Park, through the center to the suburbs to Gerani.
Buses to the Vatican and St. Peter’s
By Bus: Depending on where you’re staying or coming from, the bus might be a good alternative for you. Numerous bus stops surround the neighborhoods around the Vatican. Bus 49 drops you off right at the Vatican Museum’s entrance (P.za Cavour to Ospedale S. Filippo Neri). The bus stop at Cavalleggeri/S. Pietro offers numerous different bus options for the closest stop to St. Peter’s square.
The Rome Hop on Hop off Bus also has stops at the Vatican and St. Peters. See for routes and tickets here.
By Taxi: Roman taxi drivers will drop you off wherever you want, but it will be outside Vatican City.
Walk to Vatican City
On Foot: as almost all options are to arrive as close to the Vatican as possible, you will enter the Vatican on foot. If you’re fit and in the neighborhood, it is really nice to walk from the Castle of Angels (Castel Santangelo) to the Vatican. You cannot use the secret passageway that connects the Pope’s ancient refuge, but it is nice to walk along the Borgo S. Angelo. For a more dramatic approach, walk along the Via Della Conciliazione towards St. Peter’s Basilica. This is the main traffic artery to the Vatican.
Where to eat in the Vatican?
If you just spend the largest portion of your morning exploring St. Peter’s Basilica and then continued to get lost at the Vatican Museum, you might get a bit hungry. Or at least very thirsty. So where can you eat and sit down for a drink at the Vatican?
You are not allowed to eat inside St. Peter’s Basilica or the Vatican Museum (or it’s gardens). This does not apply to St. Peter’s square. As basically the rest of Vatican City is private property, there is not much room left to go dining or enjoy a lazy lunch. Don’t expect a plethora of eateries or trattorias inside Vatican City. They don’t exist.
Your best options to eat inside Vatican City are:
- Bring your own snacks, sandwiches or granola bars.
- The small cafe and vending machines on the first floor when you climb St. Peter’s dome. Just for a coffee or mid-climb snack really.
- On the Via del Telegrafo there is a small supermarket called Annona Città Del Vaticano.
Inside the Vatican Museum:
- A self-service restaurant is located inside the Vatican Museum. It offers snacks and sandwiches, some salads and the basic tourist grub. It is loud, informal and staff can’t keep up with cleaning up after inconsiderate tourists who can’t clean up their own garbage.
- The Bistrot La Pigna is located inside the courtyard of the Vatican Museum. A great location to watch the crowds take selfies with the Sphere in Sphere Orb.
- For a quick lunch stop, The Pizzeria offers (duh) pizza by the slice. But also sandwiches. This is really a good lunch stop, but not suited for late museum roaming munches as they’re open from 11 am till 3.30pm.
- The Caffetteria Le Carrozze is a small café for coffees and drinks to start your museum visit.
- The Caffetteria Centrale is annexed to the self-service restaurant and offers bar service only. You can sit down if there is room.
- or The Caffetteria Il Forno can be found after the Sistine Chapel and offers coffee and drinks.
Although it seems like this is a long list with places to take a break inside the Vatican Museum, it really is not all that great. With 20,000 visitors per day in summer, a coffee corner/ cafe that can seat 60 people is not a secure choice. But, if you do see a free seat, take advantage of it, claim it, sit down and enjoy the Vatican!
Best foodies options around the Vatican
Luckily for you, Vatican City is not a Disney-like attraction that you can only enter once. You can also leave the Vatican and eat in the neighborhood around Vatican City!
Prati is the area that hugs and surrounds the Vatican closely. Here, you’ll find some of the best and most authentic foodies stops in Rome! Choose a delicious mortadella sandwich, or indulge with Michelin-star pizza from Bonci Pizzarium, Prati is the place to be for any food lover. If your brain is beaten to a pulp by the sensory overload of the Vatican Museum, a food tour of Prati is the ultimate reward.
Can I stay overnight at the Vatican?
For people who count countries, a country can only be counted, when you spend at least 1 night inside the country. Sad news for those purists: you cannot stay overnight in the Vatican.
Unless you consider a career change and have your eyes set to become a member of the clergy or Vatican administration. Or you want to sleep on the street. Those are your only options to stay overnight in Vatican City.
For those who want a comfortable bed in a hotel or other accommodation, you need to look outside Vatican City. If you wish to arrive at 7 am or admire St. Peter’s Square late at night, you want to sleep as close to the Vatican as possible. Here are my recommendations for staying overnight close to Vatican City.
Budget places to stay near the Vatican
Modern B&B: I’m not sure if you can stay closer to the entrance of the Vatican Museums than with this place. Modern double rooms, styled with the whole IKEA catalog, you can find a room from €47 onwards. Check for availability here.
Room 4 Rome B&B Risorgimento: They offer small double rooms, including breakfast from 37€ onwards. If you want a view of St. Peter’s Basilica, opt for their Triple room with a view for €58. Value for money and so close to St. Peter’s Square. See if they have rooms available for you.
GUESTHOUSE Les Chambres d’Or: How does 30€ a night sound to sleep only a couple of hundred meters from the Vatican? Absolutely bargain. This guesthouse offers several double rooms, ranging from old-fashioned to modern design. But it is the price you’re after, right? See if they can accommodate you here.
Mid-range hotels near Vatican City
Relais Vatican View: They offer nicely decorated double rooms, a rooftop view of St. Peter’s Basilica, and air-conditioned rooms, only minutes from St. Peter’s Square. The price tag? Ranging from €60 upwards (breakfast not included). See more prices here.
InnsideRome: This place should actually be called Inside the Vatican as it is so close. Just located on the other side of the street surrounding the Vatican, it is mere minutes from St. Peter’s Square. They offer bright romantically decorated rooms from €83 onwards. Click here for availability.
Apartamento Delle Grazie: Located close to the Vatican Museum’s entrance, this is more a hotel/guest house than an apartment. They offer 24/7 reception, air-conditioned rooms and yes, some rooms have a kitchen, but not all they. They do have a shared lounge and terrace. Their rooms start from €92 onwards. Click here to book a room.
Luxury hotels near the Vatican
Residenza Paolo VI: This converted monastery is THE place to stay if you want to have the feeling that you’re staying in Vatican City. Located right behind the Bernini Colonnade, you have panoramic views of St. Peter’s Square and are right opposite the Pope’s private quarters. Their small double (which is more a small single), starts from €97 but their much more comfortable superior double is €212. You can also book the Junior Suite for €416 a night. Check if they have a room for you, as they sell out mega quickly.
Best Western Plus Hotel Spring House: If you rather go for something familiar, the Best Western is always a safe bet. Forget personal details and ambiance, but you’ll get a perfect location near the Vatican Museums and efficient and trustworthy service. A safe bet for €104 a night. Check their rates and availability here.
Hotel Della Conciliazione: If you rather have the feeling you’re staying in Rome, stay at this hotel with opulent Roman façade and entrance. Their rooms are comfortable and have a homely feel to them. Located just a couple of 100 meters from St. Peter’s Square, this is a good place to stay in. Check their rates and rooms here.
After a full day of exploring the Vatican, you’ll be happy to return to your hotel that is located close to Vatican City.
My personal best things to do in Vatican City
And there you have it. These are my personal recommendations of the best things to do in Vatican City. I’ve been to Rome now for more than 4 times and each time, I have to do these things. It is almost like a ritual because they are so uniquely linked to the Holy City. I hope you liked my recommendations and found them useful. Feel free to share this on social media by clicking the social share buttons below.
Have you been to the Vatican? What is your favorite piece of art? Have you visited the St. Peter’s Basilica at 7 am or attended an audience with the Pope? Share your experiences in the comment section below, I’d love to read them.